catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 9 :: 2006.05.05 — 2006.05.19


Healing place: a sketch

Ronald walks in the door of my downtown shop to show me more drawings. He’s in a surprisingly good mood. A few days ago, the police took his sister away from him and though Paula’s back temporarily, she’s trailing him around town sobbing about how she doesn’t want to leave her brother. As Ronald flips through his sketchbook full of pastel colored pencil landscapes, Paula clings to her brother’s arm and then moves toward the mirror by the jewelry to gaze at her fearful, reddened face. I can see her reflection, stilled in mid-wail, and my heart sinks for her. She stands there, not studying but staring, like a news photo of someone caught in the middle of unimaginable tragedy. It’s a photo I will keep.

Most people in town know Ronald and Paula. They walk everywhere and I’ll see them out on the highway one hour, then making their rounds of downtown stores the next. I’m not sure what specific disabilities they have, but they have been on their own since their mother died a few years ago and they seem to be surviving in one another’s company. They come in our store once or twice a week: Ronald to parade his newest “outsider” artwork and Paula because she goes everywhere Ronald goes.

There aren’t many gathering places in our small town where Ronald and Paula are welcome. In fact, Ronald has an occasional tendency to be violent and so he has several restraining orders against him, including one initiated by a local church. But here, even though I don’t indulge my instinct to take Paula in my arms, they sense a spirit of welcome that exists both because of and in spite of me.

Would it be a relief for people if Paula were put in a group home? Would it be a relief for Ronald? He escapes by drawing and he has been especially prolific lately. He shows me the papers that have been signed by his other sister and says he can’t get public assistance for a lawyer. He shows me the picture he drew with small figures on a beach. “That’s me and Paula,” he says.

Ronald begins to move toward the door. He carries with him a wooden recipe box shaped like a house that he’s going to color for Paula. It still has someone’s yellow $.25 garage sale sticker on its roof, even though they picked it up for free at an outreach store down the street. Paula is smiling now and they leave me, Ronald holding his fragile companionship with Paula gently like a precious found treasure that is determined to leap out of his hands and shatter on the sidewalk before his tired feet.

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